Dissociative Drugs: Complete Guide

Dissociative Drugs Complete Guide
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By Gabriella Eljaiek, Supervisee in Social Work, MSW, QMHP-A, RYT-200, RPYT, Substance Abuse Counselor for adolescent intensive outpatient program (IOP) at FCCR Radford in Richmond, Virginia

Teen boy talking to woman about struggles with dissociative drugs.

Though dissociative drug abuse rates are relatively low in the United States, it was still a problem for about 33,000 Americans as of 2013. Our country also has the highest percentage of high school students who have experimented with hallucinogens.

So what are dissociative drugs, and how do they affect the body and mind? Check out our guide to learn more about dissociative drugs and the implications of drug abuse.

What Are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs are a type of hallucinogen that causes the user to feel detached from their surroundings and sensory experiences. Users may have a distorted sense of time, color, sound, motion, or sense of self. Some dissociative drugs have FDA-approved medical uses, but they are also illegally used for recreational and social purposes.

As of 2012, more than 32,000 Americans over the age of 11 reported current usage of PCP. These users may take the drug for a wide range of social or recreational reasons, such as stress relief, personal enjoyment, or out of curiosity.

Dissociative drugs like PCP can cause a strong dependency, and extended use can cause severe long-term effects and influence the user to behave in strange and dangerous ways.

How Do Dissociative Drugs Work?

Scientists do not understand all of the mechanics of dissociative drugs and their effects. However, research has shown that these drugs may interrupt the messages firing from the brain and spinal cord that manage:

  • Mood
  • Senses
  • Body temperature
  • And more

Woman contemplating how dissociative drugs have impacted her life.

Types of Dissociative Drugs

Let’s look at the common types of dissociative drugs that are abused on the streets today. Drugs like ketamine and DXM have legitimate medical uses, but are also abused and illegally bought and sold on the streets.

The most popular dissociative drugs include PCP and ketamine, among others.

Phencyclidine (PCP)

This highly addictive drug can be consumed by taking a pill, snorting a powder, or smoking it with marijuana or nicotine. In comparison to other dissociative drugs, PCP is considered one of the most unpredictable, since it can cause severe side effects when taken in high doses. PCP is known to cause cravings and dependency, with users constantly using and looking for the drug in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.


Ketamine is an FDA-approved drug that is used in medical settings for anesthesia, sedation, and treatment of depression. However, the drug is also abused on the streets and commonly consumed through snorting or smoking. The side effects of ketamine are similar to those of PCP, but they tend to be milder and last for a shorter duration. Higher doses of ketamine can produce more intense effects.

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is commonly found in extra-strength cough medicines that can be purchased over the counter. This drug is safe for use in small doses, when used as recommended on the medication packaging or label. However, the drug is also popular for illegal, nonmedical use—especially among teenagers, who have easier access to this drug than other dissociative drugs. DXM can produce similar effects to PCP and ketamine when taken in a high dosage.

Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum is a naturally-occurring plant that is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Users of salvia divinorum typically chew the leaves or drink salvia tea, but the leaves can also be dried and smoked. This plant has psychoactive properties and is also referred to as magic mint or Sally-D.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is medically used as an anesthetic. It is known to produce short-term effects such as mind/body detachment (a floating sensation), hallucinations, or distortion of senses.

Street Names for Dissociative Drugs

Drugs like PCP, ketamine, and DXM are often referred to by their nicknames in street culture. Here are some of the most popular street names for dissociative drugs today:

  • Robo (DXM)
  • Lean (DXM)
  • Dank (DXM)
  • Special K (ketamine)
  • K (ketamine)
  • Angel Dust (PCP)
  • Rocket Fuel (PCP)
  • Supergrass (PCP)
  • Embalming Fluid (PCP)
  • Nangs (Nitrous oxide)

Short-Term Effects of Dissociative Drugs

The short-term effects of dissociative drugs are numerous, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. Specific effects may vary depending on the person taking them, the type of dissociative drug being used, and the dosage. Higher doses of the drug usually come with more intense short-term effects.

Here are just a few of the short-term effects a person may feel when taking a low dose of dissociative drugs:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Confusion or lack of coordination
  • High blood pressure or heart rate
  • Increased respiration or body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes to sight, hearing, and other senses

Higher doses of dissociative drugs may result in short-term effects such as:

  • Loss of memory
  • Extremely high blood pressure or heart rate
  • Dangerously high respiration or temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense anxiety, panic, paranoia, or other psychological issues
  • Respiratory arrest or death (especially when consumed with alcohol)

Teen girl reflecting on how dissociative drugs have effected her life.

In some cases, taking these drugs can also cause seizures, muscle contractions, extreme aggressive or violent behavior, or psychosis. Those who take ketamine in high doses can be at risk for amnesia and a complete loss of their senses, which may feel like a near-death experience.

Long-Term Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Researchers must conduct further studies to have a greater understanding of the long-term effects of dissociative drugs. Still, some studies suggest that frequent and prolonged use of drugs like PCP can cause the user to develop a high tolerance for the drug.

If the person tries to stop using the drug at this point, it could lead to withdrawal symptoms like cravings and headaches. Other potential long-term effects of PCP include depression, anxiety, loss of memory, and difficulty with speech.

Find Effective Addiction Treatment Today

Do you or a loved one need help recovering from a dissociative drug addiction? If so, Pinnacle Treatment Centers is ready to offer support. Our experienced team provides much-needed empathy and helpful resources to combat all types of addictions.

From outpatient and residential care to medication-assisted methods, we have a wide range of treatments to meet the unique needs of every patient. Contact us today to learn more about our proven drug recovery methods.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.